Trip report: Transatlantic on United Airlines

December 11th 2014, 14:05 | Written by Konstantin Koll

This trip report is about my recent trip with the Misses from DUS to EWR on United Airlines—my first longhaul flight on an American carrier, and the itinerary would also include my first transatlantic flight on a narrowbody (a Boeing 757).

Normally, I opt for European carriers like Lufthansa or Swiss for my travels because of better service and less hassle than North American airlines. Due to some poor planning and late booking, we ended up on an United Airlines itinerary to New York City. Though I've had plenty of domestic flights on American carriers (like old Continental Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, United and so on), this would be my first longhaul flight on an American airline, and the return flight to Germany would also be my first transatlantic flight on a narrowbody.

DUS-LHR

To catch our morning flight to LHR, we had to be at the airport by 5am at the latest. After parking our car, we entered the terminal building around 4am, and went straight to the Lufthansa checkin area.

Unfortunately, the checkin kiosk could not process our tickets, as the code sharing agreement between United Airlines and Germanwings (operating carrier on two out of four flights) was not in place yet. We were manually checked in at the service counter, with our luggage checked through to New York.

We had ample time left, so we explored the terminal building, bustling with activity on this Sunday in November. Incidentally, and perfect for today's destination, the American cardstacker Bryan Berg built the Manhattan skyline from playing cards! After our way through security, we proceeded to a bus gate on the lower departure level. I had the opportunity to capture a great shot of flight LH 409 just arriving from EWR. The flight was operated by one of three Lufthansa Airbus A340 based in DUS, which have safely taken me over the pond numerous times.

Soon our flight to LHR was called, and all passangers were bussed to a shiny new Canadair Regional Jet 900 on a remote stand. These jets have just been delivered recently, so the cabin was in impeccable condition. Now, I've written in an earlier trip report that I absolutely dread the new Germanwings concept for Lufthansa's non-hub European traffic. Unfortunately, we've had no choice given our late booking, so I was at least eager to find out if anything had improved since last summer.

Takeoff was quite smooth and on time, just at dawn. We were able to capture some great photos of a beautiful sunrise above the North Sea! What was not so great, however, was the inflight service. Although the crew was very friendly and attentive, the cheese sandwich handed out for breakfast was a joke, just like in my previous experience. Germanwings seriously has to get their inflight food in order, even at the expense of higher ticket prices!

LHR-EWR

We arrived at LHR Terminal 2, the newly inaugurated Star Alliance terminal, and walked into the building. The facilities are very bright and spacious, and finding your way is fairly easy (for connecting passengers, do not go past the immigration counters). Connecting flights are one level up, behind yet another security check. Security in the UK was much more strict than in Germany, as all passengers had to take off their belts and shoes. Behind security, all United passengers had to report to a United agent to verify their ESTA and APIS forms—something I've never experienced when connecting in FRA or ZRH.

It was a very long walk to the satellite building of Terminal 2, where all United Airlines flights depart. We made it just in time to take a few pictures before boarding our EWR-bound Boeing 767. We were greeted by the purser and settled in our seats. Compared to the shiny CRJ-900 of our previous flight, the cabin looked a bit dated—almost like a time travel 20 years back.

It was raining outside and windy, so we experienced a rather bumpy, but timely departure from LHR. Soon, service began with a round of drinks and lunch. Both the misses and me have chosen the chicken, and I must say that it was quite delicious and filling. As we didn't sleep the night before to catch the first flight of the day, we reclined our seats after desert and dozed off. As I had the airshow on my screen, I just remember waking up south of Iceland, and then right before Halifax. Similar to another flight in 2008, there were strong headwinds, so the remainder of the flight seem to take forever. We eventually made it to EWR more or less on time, and then past immigration and customs. We were happy to reach Manhattan's Penn Station after an easy train ride—our hotel was just opposite, so we could start exploring New York City right away.

EWR-HAM

All good things come to an end, and this also holds true for vacations. After a thrilling week in the Empire City, it was time to head back home again. We left Manhattan around 12am, and took a train to EWR.

Again, the checkin kiosks could not process our tickets, ao be just received temporary boarding passes for our onward flight HAM-DUS. After getting rid of our luggage (somehow my bags always get a lot heavier when returning from the US) and making our way through the TSA checkpoint, we had several hours to kill before our flight, so we strolled the duty free shops and frequented Starbucks. I also sneaked out to take a few pictures :)

At 5pm boarding of our Boeing 757-200 commenced. I was a bit nervous, as this would be my first transatlantic flight on a single aisle aircraft. However, for some reason the seat pitch was much more generous than on the Boeing 767 before. It took us about 20 minutes to taxi to the runway (the airspace around New York City is typically congested by lots of regional jets). Takeoff was quite an expierience, as the engines of the Boeing 757-200 are overpowered. They bring a fully loaded Boeing 757 to takeoff speed in no time!

Soon after takeoff, dinner was servered with several rounds of drinks. I had the chicken on a pasta bed with a creamy sauce—a very delicious treat! A friendly flight attendent also gave both the misses and me a second brownie for desert :) The entertainment system was much better than on onboard the Boeing 767, so I watched “22 Jump Street” (thumbs down) and the Asian movie “Snow on the Blades”, which I highly recommend.

After a short nap (and a way too short “night” between the time zones), a small breakfast was served. It was still dark when we arrived in HAM.

Here's some footage of our takeoff, taken by the misses with her iPhone (she seized the window seat, of course). With the highest thrust/weight ratio of all modern airliners, a Boeing 757-200 really is an overpowered rocketship!

HAM-DUS

We've arrived 30 minutes early in HAM, and were greeted by a gentleman from United Airlines as soon as we entered the terminal building through a jet bridge. As HAM is not at all designed for connecting traffic, the very few connecting passengers were directly led into the sterile area of the airport and through border control (in the EU, passengers clear customs at their final destination, not at the first port of entry).

We had about two hours to kill before boarding, so we wandered the spacious and rather deserted airport and airside shops. It was nice to hear German spoken all over again, though :) We exchanged our temporary boarding passes at the gate without any hassle, and were bussed to another Canadair Regional Jet awaiting its first leg of the day (the crew would later continue their HAM-DUS-HAM-NCE run for a nice layover at the French Riviera).

Takeoff was on time, and just right for a beautiful sunrise and some nice clouds above Northern Germany. For inflight service, I've chosen the meat sandwhich, which was definately much better than its cheese bretheren :) As it's only a short hop from HAM to DUS, we've soon finished our very memorable trip to New York City.

Again, here's a takeoff video with a great view of the ramp at HAM. Note the white tail Airbus A340, the Lufthansa B747-8i and the Airbus A310 MRTT at the Lufthansa Technik hangar!

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